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Infidelity: Nine Step for Saving a Marriage After a Spouse Admits to an Affair

NOTE:  There is a HUGE difference between an affair and sexual addiction.  Before you decide to try and save your marriage, you need to know whether you’re dealing with an affair or with someone who has an addiction.  The article below is only for those dealing with an affair AND your partner is repentant and has ended the affair.  In no way am I advocating trying to save a marriage to someone who wants to continue the affair or who shows callous disregard for breaking their vows and your heart.  If you’re dealing with a sexual addiction, that is a situation that has very different dynamics than an affair.  Laurie  icon-heart 

When The Globe published photos of Frank Gifford’s affair with Suzen Johnson in its May 1997 edition, the public wondered what would happen to Gifford’s marriage to Kathie Lee. As co-host of Live With Regis and Kathie Lee, Kathie Lee had often talked about their marriage and their children, portraying their family as picture perfect.

Many couples have privately experienced the Gifford’s very public pain. A University of Chicago study found that every year, four to six percent of American marriages experience infidelity, with 25 percent of all marriages affected by the pain of infidelity sometime during the marriage. Dr. Don David Lusterman, author of “Infidelity: A Survivor’s Guide,” works with many couples whose marriages have been devastated by infidelity. He’s found that 75-80 percent of those who are willing to work on things end up with a better marriage. For this reason, he believes that most marriages do not end because of infidelity. They end because people didn’t know how to conduct them.

If the betrayed partner decides to stay, Lusterman believes marriages can survive an affair, as long as both parties are willing to do the hard work necessary to achieve an authentic relationship.  


1) First of all, survive. 
Kathie Lee’s initial response was one of survival. “First, I had to help him, because he was so broken and truly desperate for me to forgive him. And so I said, yes, of course, not even knowing all details,” she told Larry King. “Then, it’s about circle the wagons, let’s protect our family, our children.” The stress of adultery is tough on your body. So, while you may lose your appetite or crave carbs, as much as possible, try to eat right. Stay away from the booze. Try to get your sleep, even if you have to ask your doctor for something to help you.

2) Don’t judge yourself for your choice to stay. 
Before finding out their own spouse has had an affair, many people have said what they would or wouldn’t do if their spouse cheated, only to do the opposite when it happens to them. When it’s your marriage, your kids, and your home that are on the line, many people decide to swallow their hurt and pride try and save the marriage. “I had been married at that point for 11 years to a man I adored who had never given me one reason ever to doubt his sincerity or to not to trust him. So this was an aberration in my husband’s life,” Kathie Lee told Larry King when he asked her why she’d stayed. “I thought about 11 years of love in my life and kindness and tenderness and warmth and sexiness, and just friendship and all those things. How am I going to throw something so valuable away because he made a stupid mistake?” It took three years of therapy for Kathie Lee to see things from that perspective.

3) Don’t judge yourself for your reaction. 
While Kathie Lee pulled it together in the beginning, after the shock wore off, she began to feel the pain. “I don’t think most people know how they would react. You don’t until it does happen to you,” Kathie Lee would later tell Larry King. The more invested you are in your marriage, the greater the shock and hurt. So, for many people, the initial response to discovering an affair is pretty messy. Kathie Lee admitted in a “20/20 Downtown” interview, that initially, she was so disappointed and hurt she wanted to kill Frank. 

“I’ve seen very cultured gentle people, who never curse, completely break down and do a lot of screaming and swearing,” said Dr. Lusterman.

4) Be forthcoming about the details of the affair(s). 
Knowing what has happened is an important part of unraveling the deception that was part of the adultery. Deception often creates feelings of “craziness” in the spouse. Getting clear about exactly what occurred when begins the arduous process of restoring trust. This doesn’t involve every gory detail and exactly what happened between the adulterer and his lover. “What’s important is how was I lied to,” Dr. Lusterman said. “That involves time lines, reconstruction of travel, business arrangements, and other details. Once that’s done and some comforting occurs, then we can work on “normal” marriage problems.”

5) Learn how to communicate honestly. 
“When I see a couple who are not communicating about important things, who go day after day and never talk about what hurts them, I know there’s hurt underneath that can lead to problems,” Dr. Lusterman said. “One of harbingers of infidelity is that one or both parties are really bad at talking about what matters. So, if they’re going to save the marriage, people really have to develop a method of speaking with great honesty.”

Whether you decide to stay or not, therapists advise that you find some way to communicate with your spouse. “The spouse will be hurt if they just walk away. The more you talk, even if the outcome is the sad ending of what you started with vows, the better off you are, because even if the marriage is dead, the other person is still alive and you will need to cooperate about your kids. Keeping the conversation going keeps you from losing the ability to be a full parent,” said Dr. Lusterman.

 6) Find good help. 
You can’t do this on your own. The Giffords went to weekly therapy for years. So, find a good therapist or sign up for one of the marriage recovery programs listed below. Better yet, do both.

7) Help the wounded spouse with their post-traumatic stress. 

Finding out your spouse has had an affair is extremely traumatic, especially if you believe the contract of monogamy still applies. “The PTSD associated with affairs has two prominent features — hyper-alertness and numbness accompanied by alternating extremes of emotions. Victims feel like a rapidly cycling bi-polar. He’s five minutes late for dinner. She thinks, ‘that’s what he did when he was having the affair.’ So, she thinks he’s with someone else, now. When he does show up, she’s loaded for bear,” Dr. Lusterman said.

Lusterman believes the betrayer must help the wounded spouse become comfortable again by telling them whatever it is they need to know to feel safe and the person who has been hurt needs to learn how to take a step back from strong emotions and say, “I’m having a really crappy day. Can we talk? Can you be there for me?”

“When couples can do this, they have really learned how to talk,” Lusterman said. “And that bodes well for the marriage because a good marriage is a good conversation that never really stops.”

8) Become empathetic. 
One of things Lusterman works very hard on is to get a level of conversation going where the betrayer can become empathic to the level of suffering they caused their mate. Kathie Lee decided to stay with Frank after he expressed deep remorse for the hurt he had caused their family and pledged to spend the rest of his life trying to be the man she thought he was. Likewise, Kathie Lee learned to be empathetic about the hurt Frank had caused himself.

9) Forgive. 
This is not an easy step and it can’t be done quickly because in order to truly forgive, you have to stare the horror of what has happened full in the face. Although Kathie Lee made a decision to work things through, forgiving Frank was a struggle. In the end, she was able to forgive because she chose to focus on the bigger picture. “Sometimes when you can’t forgive your husband, you have to forgive your children’s father,” Kathie Lee said.


APSATS  (Association for Partners of Sex Addicts Trauma Specialists) APSATS is the only organization that specializes in the preparation and certification of Partner Specialists. We train and certify Certified Clinical Partner Specialists (CCPS) and Certified Partner Coaches (CPC) who subscribe to a developing treatment model that acknowledges and responds to the traumatic stress found in partners affected by sex addiction.

PAIRS (Practical Application of Intimate Relationship Skills)
PAIRS has taught thousands to remove barriers to love and passion and create lasting relationships that are filled with love, pleasure and happiness. Programs across the country and around the world.
Call: 888- 724-7748

Retrovaille- (Retro-vi) “means lifeline and rhymes with apple pie” A program for couples with serious problems who are disillusioned, separated and/or on the brink of divorce. You’ll be helped by couples who have also “been to the brink”—who have experienced serious problems including affairs—but who have worked their way back to each other.         

This program (85% successful when both partners work at it) teaches simple techniques of communication and exercises to work on forgiveness, healing, and restoration of trust. The program begins with a weekend and includes 12 follow-up meetings over three months. These are not spiritual retreats, sensitivity groups, seminars or social gatherings—there are no counselors involved and you don’t have to say anything in front of anyone else. Couples discuss the topics and practice the skills in private. Blank-envelope-donation system. Open to couples of all faiths and to the non-religious.
To find a program in your area: 800-470-2230

The Third Option
Couples can either divorce, stay miserably married, or chose a third option—get help. Led by Pat Ennis, MSW, this ongoing marriage enrichment/marriage crisis group program uses a drop-in format, skill building and sharing by couples that have overcome great difficulties. A self-contained manual & videos make the program easy to implement in your church or community. For couples or individuals at any stage from engaged to long-married seeking enrichment or divorce prevention.
Call: 315-472-6728

The Healing Heart
Affair Recovery Forum — for the betrayed partner.

New Life Partners
A Christian online resource and support group for women whose lives have been impacted by husbands or loved ones caught in the web of pornography and/or sexual addiction.

Dr. Don-David Lusterman
Information about Dr. Lusterman’s books and useful links.

Dr. Shirley Glass
The late Dr. Glass’ Web site includes a number of informative articles about infidelity.

The National Registry of Marriage Friendly Therapists

Laurie S. Moison (Hall) has been a journalist for 16 years. She’s written for newspapers in Vermont, New Hampshire, Delaware, and Washington, D. C.. Author of four books, including “An Affair of the Mind,” she has lectured nationally on sexuality, forgiveness, ethics, and spirituality. Laurie makes her home in Delaware and loves to hike. She can be reached at


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